Sunday Sequence today carried an answer from Dr. Hazlett Lynch of the West Tyrone Voice victims association to the comments from Rt Rev Harold Miller, Bishop of Down and Dromore that Protestants must accept their role in the Troubles. Miller had said:
“We, that is Protestants, need to unilaterally look at our own faults, failings and sins, state them and confess them, because we still are inclined to see ourselves, as a community, as entirely the victims in the Troubles. What can we agree to say together in repentance and apology for where we as a community went wrong?”
Miller’s argument may have some merit. However, there is a very clear rebuttal of these views which should be made. Dr. Lynch made much of that rebuttal when he refuted the allegation that his younger brother (a member of the security forces murdered by terrorists) was in any way guilty. He went on to state that he Dr. Lynch had nothing to apologise for and did not need to apologise for the past.Dr. Lynch’s rebuttal can, however, be expanded on and although the counter argument from Rev. Miller’s comments can also be elaborated I will leave others do that.
The initial thing which many of those like Rev. Miller hark back to is the errors and failings of the old Stormont regime. I have previously mentioned these very major and gross failings (immoral even) and it is pretty clear that the civil rights movement had a large number of very valid points.
However, 1969 was 40 years ago and Stormont fell 37 years ago. If the collective blame for Stormont partly resides with those who voted unionist during the Stormont regime, that makes anyone under the age of 55 completely innocent even by the most extreme reading of blame. In addition I doubt even Rev. Miller is actually suggesting that voting unionist was a sin: maybe he means being involved in the administration of Stormont. In that case since almost no one much under 40 had any major say in government, the guilt becomes confined to a very small group of those now over 70.
The above is of course excessively simplistic but it is worth remembering that whatever the undoubted wrongs of the old Stormont it was a long time ago and as such any responsibility for those failings cannot be shared by the majority of the unionist community.
Of course the likes of Rev Miller broaden this supposed Prod guilt to include creating the situation which caused the troubles to continue. However, again that thesis is utterly flawed and in this case immorally so. It implies that unionists, by not giving in to the IRA who let us remember during most of the campaign demanded actual or promised British withdrawal prior to their ending their murder campaign, were partly responsible for their own murders. This sort of position is never admitted by the likes of Miller etc. but is actually pretty clear. By accusing unionists of not compromising with the IRA, this thesis is accusing them of doing wrong in not giving in to an extremist terrorist organisation which essentially regarded all Protestants (and many Roman Catholics) as legitimate targets. Even taking the IRA’s own utterly warped morality, they regarded Protestant businessmen, unionist politicians, judges, census recorders etc. as all legitimate targets and people commemorating the dead of various wars and others in the wrong place at the wrong time as simply acceptable causalities of war.
Of course the likes of Miller are usually too much the coward to say that the likes of Marie Wilson or Douglas Deering deserved their fates (though that is the clear implication of his logic). Instead we have wheeled out platitudes such as saying that unionists need to acknowledge that their attitudes helped cause and perpetuate the troubles. Again superficially there is some validity in that argument. However, again one comes back to the unfortunate (for Miller) fact that the attitudes in question were centrally the desire to live in peace and not accede to the demands of a group of essentially fascist murderers. Miller’s position of partial unionist guilt is actually worryingly similar to suggesting that the Tutsi’s alleged attitude of superiority was both the reason and a partial justification for them being massacred in Rwanda or indeed the Jews supposed wealth, conspiracies etc. being an explanation and partial justification for pogroms throughout the ages. To bring it to a more personal level that thesis is the same one which suggests that a young woman in a short skirt is somehow partially responsible for a sexual attack on her. Of course the likes of Miller would vociferously deny this but the connection is actually pretty similar. If the above examples in reality have one side completely black (the rapist) and one side white (the woman) as most of us would agree then equally here in Northern Ireland we have innocent victims (of both sides) and murderers (again of both sides).
In addition on a specifically theological point those who suggest that Protestant attitudes were at fault are claiming to be able to assess the attitudes and motives of individual people and to ascertain that they were wrong and indeed sinful. This is completely unacceptable in Protestantism as we hold to the priesthood of all believers: as such if a Christian states that his heart is correct, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary that should be accepted. Indeed for any prelate or other to claim that they know that a given person has sinful prejudice or hatred in their heart whilst that person denies it, is for the one making the claim in actual fact to claim that s/he is able to interpret the will of the Holy Spirit in the person’s soul. That is automatically to place the one making the claim in the place of a mediator between God and man and as such makes that person an antichrist.
Turning to the quote made by Rev Miller from 2 Chronicles 7:14: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. This passage and ones like it are used to proclaim that the whole unionist community needs to repent. However, although such passages are fairly popular for this purpose they may well not be relevant. They are specifically Old Testament passages and in the Old Testament the idea was that God had a special relationship with one nation (the Jews). However, the New Testament approach is that God’s relationship is with individual believers. As such a call for a group repentance in a New Testament context can only be interpreted as a call to individual believers to repent and as we have seen it is highly problematic for a prelate to tell individual believers to repent of things that they do not feel they have done wrong. Jesus had absolutely no time for the concept of collective guilt: each person was responsible for their own sins John 9:3 and each for their own salvation from sins (John 3:5). As such Miller is on extremely shaky theological ground in calling for the unionist community to repent of sins which he is identifying and claiming that they have committed.
At some level all this is pretty irrelevant as Protestants (and Catholics) have shown significant maturity in ignoring the more foolish remarks which emanate periodically from their religious leaders; people incidentally with relatively little mandate or accountability to those whom they lecture. However, the likes of Miller’s remarks do need to be challenged as they need to be seen in the context of a religious position which gives a veneer of legitimacy to the nonsense that we were all guilty for the Troubles. Indeed this argument tries to make those of us who deny our guilt more guilty than those who actually committed the atrocities of the troubles. We are all guilty of sins or for the non religious guilty of doing things wrong in this life. However, when it comes to the dreadful events of the last 40 years here the overwhelming majority of us are absolutely innocent and in contrast there are a group of extremely guilty people. Prelates or anyone else who try to blur that clear and simple distinction should have their morally and intellectually perverted position challenged every time they indulge in this spin.